Thursday, November 27, 2008


Before I move on to today's subject, I want to offer one last observation on yesterday's post.

One of the classic analogies that Gurdjieff presented Ouspensky with was the idea that men are in prison. Group work was originally predicated on the idea that one man cannot get out of prison alone.

A thought occurred to me this morning before I sat.

If men who want to get out of prison oppose each other, what progress can they make?

We all give for far less consideration to this question, I think, than we ought. It needs to become a much more active question, in front of us at every moment in every day.


There is a tension between the lines of work that Ouspensky gave birth to with his brilliant technical analysis of Gurdjieff's metaphysical genius, and Gurdjieff's dynamic, organic, and more intuitive method of working.

One of the hallmarks of Gurdjieff's work was that it changed over and over again. It has always been a metamorphic work, a work in progress, a work that reinvents itself for the people and the times that it finds itself in. This distinguishes it remarkably from Ouspensky's work, which, so far as I can see, has not evolved much at all from where it started. It begins with a scientific set of premises, presents them, and then hammers away at them, almost as though worrying the bone could put more meat on it.

In my own experience, working with the ideas Ouspensky presents is invaluable. Nonetheless, it is an edifice. It is like a building that was erected to suit a particular time and culture. It presents all the rules and structural laws for building. Those laws and rules are definite and have to be obeyed.

However, the structures that such laws produce must change over time to accommodate the societies and the peoples that inhabit them. It's possible, of course, to build a structure and then preserve it exactly, but it becomes a museum, not a place that people live in.

An excessive attention to technicalities and analysis is not a strength. It is a weakness. The attraction to detail, to the chewing over of facts and observations, to the repetitive examination of the meaning of specific words and ideas, all of these things distract us from an organic and living experience of our work, which is much messier, and far more challenging, than living according to a static set of ideas.

Our static set of ideas is an obstacle. Like Gurdjieff, we need to begin to understand a flexibility of understanding. That is a rare thing in our society.

For example, I read some political news this morning (unusual for me, early in the morning.) It was discussing the role of various network channels with traditional media roles (liberal, conservative) now that Obama has been elected. The representatives who were interviewed more or less said, "no matter whether we are right or wrong, our message and our role never changes."

This stands in stark contrast to a living, breathing relationship to real life, where -- as Gurdjieff admonished us -- if a man sees he is wrong, he must admit it, and address the situation.

We all pretend to ourselves that we have this kind of flexibility, but it is one of our great lies. If we examine ourselves carefully, we will all immediately see examples of how doggedly we cling to mistaken perceptions and ideas. There needs to be a certain willingness, an emotional willingness, to sacrifice this kind of nonsense if we want to grow.

To its credit, modern psychology has recognized that. Psychology, however, relies excessively on the mind for change, and the mind is a weak instrument. We need to recruit the assistance of other parts of ourselves to support an effort for change. The recruitment effort alone can help to bring about change we are interested in.

There comes, I find, a moment in one's inner work where one has to abandon all of the efforts at analysis. When do I move beyond the intellect alone?

When am I willing to take the step that brings me to an intimate, physical contact with my self that does not submit itself to clever descriptions?

When am I willing to encounter and remember a self that does not consist of my formulations of self?

Only in these places that are ruled by emotion and sensation, rather than formulation, do I begin to discover a relationship that transcends my expectations.

May our hearts be opened, and our prayers be heard.


  1. What you write here today exactly corresponds to my inner understanding in relation to the difference between the Teaching Mr. Gurdjieff brought us and the way Ouspensky interpreted it. It is not that Ouspensky did not serve the Teaching well; it is that Mr. Gurdjieff was, is, and will be the Teacher. I think that the best example of what you write here is the fact that Mr. Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub’s Tales for humanity and not for any particular group of people.

  2. Mr. Gurdjieff WAS the teaching itself. Among his students were many "types", some brought intellect, others brought dancing skill, and yet others brought emotional presence.

    Mr. Gurdjieff himself brought All and Everything. By touching him, we are as the blind describing the elephant, some holing the tail, others the snout, yet others the belly, teats, horns, you name it.

    Then the work is given unto men, and the strength starts to be weakened, but at the same time, like an audience too close to the orchestra mostly the strings, others the horns, others the piano and so on. e smart listener buys tickets not for the first row, but in what is called the "sweet spot", approximately towards the middle but far enough for the orchestra to "gel"

    Then he hears something whole, and the symphony makes sense. This is called in acoustics, the "throw".

    Further back the sweet spot again goes out of focus, and the listener fails to receive the full power of the music, so he fills in the holes with his "image-in-action". and presumes to "teach"

    Too far back and the whole thing turns into an indistinguishable mess. Might still sound nice, but the esoteric has been lost once again. the listener is hearing TOO much of the "Glue and not enough of the tzism. Ah well, it is by law. Acoustics are acoustics, and that's where we stand.

    blessings be unto you and your family, and may you be kept from evil. Amen.


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